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Making a complaint against government and public bodies

If you want to complain about the behaviour of someone in government or a public body you need to contact the right people. There are organisations you can go to if you are unhappy with the way your complaint was handled.

Government organisations and public bodies

the Ombudsman deals with complaints about poor service, unfair treatment and administrative failures

You can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman about UK government services or the NHS in England. They may investigate or try to help another way. If you're unhappy about a service from a government department, you can ask your MP to complain to the Ombudsman.

Before contacting the Ombudsman, you should try to make your complaint to the organisation involved. You can use the Ombudsman's website to check the complaints they can deal with, for example GPs and dentists. You can also see what they can't help with, for example gas and electricity companies.

Complaints about local government

There are Local Government Ombudsmen for England, Wales and Scotland who investigate complaints against local authorities, including councils and fire authorities. You must first complain to the authority - the Ombudsmen only step in if you're unhappy with the way your complaint was handled.

The Ombudsmen can only look at complaints about services or things that went wrong that are the fault of the authorities. They can't investigate council staff or decisions you don't agree with.

Complaints about individual councillors in England

If you have evidence of misconduct by a councillor and want to make a complaint about their behaviour you'll need to write to their council's standards committee. You can find out how to do this by contacting the council. If you have a complaint about a parish or town councillor this should be sent to the authority that the parish council is part of.

Standards committees are chaired by independent people who have no connection to the council and are not councillors. Standards committees are made up of more independent people and some councillors.

The complaint must be about the councillor's behaviour, for example:

  • bullying or threatening someone
  • using their role as councillor to get an unfair advantage over others

The complaint cannot be about the councillor's performance, for example taking a long time to reply to a letter you have sent them, or about their behaviour when they are not carrying out their duties as a councillor.

Writing your complaint

You should write a letter or fill out a complaint form on the council's website. You can only complain by phone or in person if you have a good reason, for example a disability that makes it difficult for you to write. You must say:

  • who the complaint is about
  • why you think they haven't stuck to the code of conduct (with dates and examples)

What happens to your complaint

You'll find out in writing what happens next. The standards committee will meet to discuss your complaint within 20 days. They follow a set of rules to help them decide if they will:

  • investigate it
  • speak to the councillor or give them extra training
  • send it to Standards for England (formerly Standards Board for England) if it's serious
  • decide no action is required

If you disagree with the decision you can ask the committee to look at the complaint again. You can send them new evidence and different people will discuss your complaint.

Complaints about institutes and bodies of the European Community

The European Ombudsman was established to deal with complaints about maladministration by the institutions and bodies of the European Community. You can complain if an institution doesn't do something it should have done, or does it in the wrong way, or does something it shouldn't have done. For example:

  • taking too long to do something, including making payments
  • treating people unfairly and unequally
  • refusing to allow people to see documents they have the right to see

Find out how you can complain to the Ombudsman on their website.

Housing complaints

You can complain to the Housing Ombudsman about social housing landlords in England. Some other types of landlords are covered by this service - check on the Housing Ombudsman's website. You must first complain to your landlord. The Ombudsman can only help if you are unhappy with the landlord's response.

For complaints about council housing you need to contact the Local Government Ombudsman (see 'Complaints about local government' above).

Complaints about NHS Services

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman can investigate complaints about poor treatment or service by the NHS in England. You can also complain about private health providers if the treatment was funded by the NHS (see 'Government organisations and public bodies' above).

Complaints about the police

You can complain to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) about the behaviour of police officers and police staff, for example if they are rude or use excessive force.

You can complain if:

  • you have experienced alleged police misconduct (you are the victim)
  • you witnessed alleged misconduct and you were upset, hurt or put in danger
  • you are a relative or friend of the victim, and you are upset by the effect on them

The IPPC will send your complaint to the police force in question, who have their own complaints system. The IPCC handles the most serious complaints itself. Sometimes the IPCC will look at your complaint if you're unhappy about the way it was handled.

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